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World leaders due to arrive amid cease-fire effort
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
11/18/2012
Cease-fire brokered by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar in works, Channel 2 reports; Egypt's Morsi says "some indications" of truce in Gaza; French FM Fabius to visit J'lem, Ramallah; ground operation prepared despite cease-fire talks.
 
International leaders are due to arrive in the region in the coming days in an effort to calm the hostilities between Israel and Hamas and to help broker a cease-fire.

Channel 2 reported on Saturday night that according to Arab sources, a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar was in the works.

There were “some indications” of the possibility of a cease-fire soon, but there were “no guarantees” yet, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who is in Cairo, held talks on Saturday with Mohamed Shehata, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, on the possibility of achieving a cease-fire, sources close to Hamas said.

The Arab League in Cairo on Saturday said it backed Egypt’s effort to secure a truce. It plans to send a delegation to Gaza in the coming days.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is due to arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

He will be in both Jerusalem and Ramallah.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also expected to arrive in the next few days. He will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt.

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The United States has urged Egypt and Turkey to pressure Hamas to halt its rocket attacks against Israel.

On Saturday night, as Operation Pillar of Defense entered its fourth day, major international leaders – including US President Barack Obama and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton – backed Israel’s right to self-defense, but spoke of the need to de-escalate the situation.

Even though it was Shabbat, the nine-member security cabinet met in Tel Aviv.

At the same time, cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser held a telephone vote with the full cabinet, which authorized calling up 75,000 reservists into duty, up from the 30,000 previously okayed, in case the government decides to send ground forces into Gaza.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman also met on Friday and on Saturday night.

Netanyahu lobbies international support

On Saturday, Netanyahu spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Netanyahu reiterated his message that no country in the world would agree to a situation in which its population lives under constant missile threat.

On Friday, he held his second conversation with US Obama since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense. He thanked Obama for supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and for US assistance in buying the Iron Dome antimissile batteries.

Obama in turn called Morsi, commended his efforts to deescalate the situation and said he hoped they would be successful.

Obama said he regretted the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives. He added that it was important to resolve the situation as quickly as possible to restore stability and prevent any further deaths.

On Saturday, Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and spoke with him about ways to stop the violence.

Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters the US “wants the same thing as the Israelis want,” which is an end to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Separately, Netanyahu on Saturday sent his condolences to the Office of the Egyptian President about the bus and train accident in central Egypt in which at least 49 children were killed.

Egypt’s behind-the-scenes work has taken place against a backdrop of harsh rhetoric against Israel.

Morsi denounced Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip as “a blatant aggression against humanity” and said Cairo “would not leave Gaza on its own,” the state news agency MENA reported.

Morsi made the comments in a speech following Friday prayers in a mosque in central Cairo, MENA said. His prime minister, Hisham Kandil, visited the Gaza Strip on Friday.

“Cairo will not leave Gaza on its own... Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday, and Arabs today are not the Arabs of yesterday,” Morsi said.

Ashton, Merkel voice support for Israel

Ashton and Merkel both issued strong statements in support of Israel’s right to defend itself on Friday.

“The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza, which began this current crisis, are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop,” Ashton said.

“Israel has the right to protect its population from these kind of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate,” she said. “I am deeply concerned at the escalating violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip and deplore the loss of civilian lives on both sides.”

Ashton added that she had spoken with leaders in the region, including Netanyahu, UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon and the office of Morsi, as to how best to de-escalate the situation.

“In my discussions, I made the point that we must move forward in finding a solution to the Middle East conflict so that millions of people in the region can finally live in peace and security,” she said.

A German government spokesman said on Friday that Merkel is “very worried” about an escalation of violence in the Middle East and calls on Hamas “to immediately stop shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel.”

“Hamas in Gaza is responsible for the outbreak of violence,” spokesman Georg Streiter told a news conference.

“There is no justification for the shooting of rockets at Israel, which has led to massive suffering of the civilian population.

“The chancellor urges those responsible in the Gaza Strip to immediately stop firing on Israel. At the same time she calls on the Egyptian government to use its influence on Hamas to limit the violence and bring it to an end,” he said.

Streiter said the Israeli government had the “right and obligation” to protect its citizens.

The UN Secretary-General’s Office appealed to Israel and Hamas to stop the “dangerous escalation and restore calm.”

“Rocket attacks are unacceptable and must stop at once.

Israel must exercise maximum restraint,” the office said.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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